Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Submitted by Jim Babb, Office of Strategic Communications

“We’re at a turning point in realizing our mission as community colleges.” – Craig Herndon

Considering recent events, it is no surprise that Craig Herndon is excited about the role of workforce training as Virginia’s Community Colleges enter our second 50 years of strengthening lives and communities statewide.

Community colleges have offered workforce training programs for many years to prepare Virginians for industry credentials and jobs that do not necessarily require traditional college degrees. However, until recently, there was little or no funding to help students pay for the short-term, non-credit courses.

Herndon, Vice Chancellor for Workforce Development Services, says that new financial aid resources and Virginia’s Workforce Credential Grants (WCGs) are game-changers.

“There were folks who were ready and willing to take the training, but who just could not afford it,” says Herndon. “Now, we’re able to help those who didn’t know we exist to get the training they need to land jobs with family-sustaining wages.”

Workforce training programs are bringing new students to Virginia’s Community Colleges. Workforce credential students tend to be a bit older (average age 34) and male (61 percent) versus students in academic programs.

The workforce credential grants program took off faster than anyone expected. Just seven months after the WCG program launched on July 1, 2016, more than 3,500 Virginians have enrolled, more than half of those have completed their courses, and more than 900 have attained industry-recognized credentials that will help them secure good-paying jobs. Importantly, the program’s design ensures that those positions are ones that Virginia businesses are eager to fill.

Like most “overnight success” stories, the WCG program was the result of years of hard work and preparation. Extensive coalition building with Virginia business groups and multiple state agencies helped pave the way for legislative approval of WCG funding in 2016.

Diligence by the VCCS Workforce Development Services team has been matched by yeoman efforts at our campuses around the state, which hustled to scale up and create new training courses, secure staff and facilities to roll out the program last July.

Herndon notes that the new Workforce Enterprise System (WES) was also critical to the early success of the credential grants program because, for the first time, students could use an online system to register, enroll and pay for workforce training courses.

“There’s an immense amount of credit all around,” says Herndon.

This coming summer, using reprioritized federal funding, full-time workforce credential coaches will be hired at each of Virginia’s Community Colleges to help students navigate the workforce training and industry credentialing process, and help maximize student chances for success on the job.

“We’re not resting on our laurels,” says Herndon. “We’re just getting started…because Virginia is counting on us.”'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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